The Pessimist’s Take – Markus Wheaton As A Starter

By Matthew Marczi

For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect  the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.

Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.

Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.

Question: Can Markus Wheaton sufficiently replace Emmanuel Sanders in the starting lineup?

Having just lost starting wide receiver Mike Wallace to free agency, the Steelers worked to add some more depth to the position during the 2013 NFL draft by taking two wide receivers: Markus Wheaton in the third round, and Justin Brown in the sixth round. The latter spent his rookie year on the practice squad.

Wheaton, however, didn’t get many chances to contribute as much as he would have liked to as a rookie, thanks to school regulations keeping him out of the early portions of offseason training, a pair of finger injuries forcing him to sit out of four games, and Jerricho Cotchery having an excellent season from the slot.

He had minimal opportunities during the first three weeks of the season, which included dropping a third and nine pass that was slightly behind him but in his hands on his lone target against the Chicago Bears. But the team tried to get him integrated the following week in London.

In that game, he played nearly half the time and caught three of his five targets, but the final target was another drop on a pass slightly in front of him that helped force the Steelers to settle for a field goal. He also broke his finger and missed four weeks afterward, and only re-emerged with significant snaps in Week 11 against the Detroit Lions, due to the injury to Emmanuel Sanders.

He did catch all three passes aimed at him that were catchable in this game, though at some times it wasn’t always obvious that he was on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger. His only target for the rest of the season was a deep pass that fell incomplete against the Miami Dolphins, on which, I believe, a pass interference call could have been justified.

As a whole, Wheaton didn’t contribute much as a rookie; therefore, it’s difficult to accurately project what he will be able to contribute going forward. The only receiver in recent team history to emerge as a starter in his second season was Wallace, and that was after experiencing extensive playing time in his rookie season.

Antonio Brown eventually took over the starting spot from Hines Ward by the end of the 2011 season, during which he netted over 1000 yards receiving, but it took him time during the year to develop to that point. Brown is also an All-Pro player, so it’s hardly a fair basis of comparison for Wheaton.

Regardless of how much talent or potential Wheaton might have, it’s still very much the case that it would take a significant leap forward in comparison to what he delivered as a rookie if he is to be counted upon as a starter in 2014. To that end, it’s no guarantee that he even would be given—or earn—the starting job if Sanders does indeed leave in free agency. ‘Potential’ is hope, and hope doesn’t win games.

The Optimist’s Take – Markus Wheaton As A Starter

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Callentown

    Unless the Steelers draft a WR in round 1, Wheaton will start at the #2 spot opposite Antonio next season.

    A late start to camp, injuries during the season, and another element that people don’t talk about much – the need for Cotch to play the 3rd down TE bail-out role on a regular basis – kept his production and growth to a minimum.

    Wheaton will have a better year 2 than Sanders did and could match what Sanders did last year, again depending on who lines up along with he and Brown in 2014.

  • Rick M

    Good article. One of the most baffling things that I read in newspapers, on websites, etc. is the suggestion that Wheaton will easily replace Sanders. There was even a comment that he’ll increase Sanders’ production in 2013.

    Right now, there’s no way of knowing whether Wheaton can be a full-time, successful NFL receiver. I sure hope so. But based on 2013, there’s no way we have that answer, as this article points out.

  • Matt Manzo

    I think he’s one of the young guys that we have to give as much playing time as possible. We have too many unknowns and we have to start knowing.
    I really hope that this year is the year that the veterans take a step down and the young’ns step up. Meaning I hope the coaching staff lets the guys play!
    Put Spence in, see if he has dead foot or not.
    Start Shark at FS, see if he can do it, if not we’ll know he’s just a SS.
    Give Justin Brown as much playing time as Moye had.
    Let Arnfelt run with the 2nd team all preseason.
    I stole this idea from someone here: let Garvin play FS!
    And EmberNasty too!

  • Virdin Barzey

    Wheaton passed two important test that Sanders never passed.

    Though he was limited the guy he passed the eye test of possible playmaker. I’m not saying that he is a playmaker now but when you watch him play, kinda like Jarvis Jones, it easily to see that they just need time.

    The second is the desire to be great. Listen to this guy speak and all that he is doing. You can tell this guy isn’t conerned about nothing less than being great. He seems to have the right attitude..kinda like Brown when he first started. Not that it can’t change but he is saying and doing all the right things.

    Overall, I don’t see how this guy isn’t a starter next year outside of injury. The talent is there and can only get better. Can’t wait until this guy has a full year offseason and camp.

  • Steve

    What are the 2 test that Sanders never passed?


    I’m neutral on this player because I’m at the mercy of the guys that know him well and they all say the same thing…intelligent player, great work ethic, really hurt by missing part of camp.

    I’ve got to believe that with OTAs, and a full camp that Ben will feel more comfortable with him and his production should equal Sanders.